There is no grander mesa than the Grand Mesa. There are those that tower higher; that cut more majestic outlines; that display their collaboration with time and the elements with more artistry.
But none so dominates its surrounding landscape; none provides such a study in contrasts or offers such a diverse bounty of nature.
Stretching some 40 miles, Grand Mesa looms above western Colorado, reaching nearly 11,000 feet at its highest, its subtly rising slopes occasionally jutting into abrupt, rugged, vertical notches.
Its west-facing desert lowlands are dotted with juniper and cacti, giving way to sandstone and basalt rock formations, meadows, and stands of aspen and fir as the terrain ascends. Its eastern side is more densely forested, home to—among others—lynx and black bear (both of which I have had the fortune to see and the misfortune to not be able to photograph) and is a wonderland in winter, the snows of which can linger well into late spring.
More than 100 lakes—including some man-made reservoirs—are scattered across the mesa’s nearly 500 square miles. It is the largest mesa on the globe in total land size.
Once a rich hunting ground for the Utes, the mesa was later grazing land for the livestock of the region’s early settlers. Today it is host to a ski resort, a scenic byway and a National Forest; the shaded, fertile soil of its northwest edge gives life to Palisade’s renowned vineyards and orchards.
Watching the sun rise from the western side of the mesa is to witness a painting come to life, as the dark silhouette fills with fudge-like browns, minty greens, ripe oranges and glowing yellows.
The dogs love to dart through the woods, scramble on the rocks and splash through the creeks. Many a day has been spent wandering Grand Mesa’s expanses, yet as much as we’ve seen, we’ve really experienced so little.